I have a new blog that goes with my book Resisting Grace. Check it out.
A dialog that has gone on for a few years now with a friend regarding why do people suffer or moreso, does God get involved has brought me to this ten point summary. I humbly confess any and all fault in its ideas and wording is because of my limited ability, not God’s inability. Hoping it is helpful.
1. we are in a broken world so pain is a part of the formula (and it is broken because of humanities failings both original and continual) As Jesus said “in the world you shall have trouble, hurt, pain and suffering but be of good spirit and take courage for I am greater than this world” (my paraphrase)
2. we may cause our own suffering because of poor choices even sinful ones. particularly because of a lack of repentance and trust
Paul’s word paraphrased “for what sin both coporal and individual gives back in payment is suffering, both here in this world and in the eternal perspective, the present and the final death (but God’s gift is life)”
3. suffering can be opportunities for growth both for the individual and for the community “suffering-perserverance-character-hope- love”
4. something very special is offered to the lowly and broken. a great little book I read recently is “Brokenness and Community” by Jean Vanier that speaks simply yet profoundly to this. In the Beatitudes, it is the hurting ones that Jesus addresses first. Unfortunately the church and the world do not value them as the Lord does.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
5. the community of God’s people are to bring comfort to those in pain. the lonliness of pain many times is the greatest hurt and it is the call of the people of God to come alongside to be present. within the body when one suffers all suffers, outside the body, they may know who God is by our acts of compassion.
perhaps this is the greatest failing of the church and why so many suffer without comfort and many of us should be on our knees in repentance and on our feet walking along those who are hurting
6. there is the testimony of many who claim God’s touch through means of comfort, peace and joy. some would see his good work sharpening, purging, sharpening their character through means of suffering
7. some would also claim a healing. we know of the stories of healing in the gospels and the book of acts. many would tell of healings today, most of them in the revivals in the third world countries. explanation of these vary. most explanations refer to the lack of faith in the western mindset.
8. some will not be healed even if the person is trusting. it may be so the community can express itself in the demonstration of care or it may be the opportunity for His power to be expressed in such weakness. for some, that they may express the empathy of our high priest to others, who empathized with our every weakness. because we suffer we may comfort those who suffer with the comfort we receive.
9. this present suffering is faint in comparison to the weight of glory to be received
10. these are congruent to the Word of God as best as I have interacted with it and the world around me
If you have anything to add or reactions, please feel free to comment.
I highly recommend trying a big new challenging task that you never did before for each decade of life. May not “succeed” but it takes your breath away, raises up undone insecurities and keeps the old crustiness from forming. That is what book writing is doing to me in my fifties. What a ride. I’m scared, excited, humbled and proud all at the same time. There is focus and clarity one moment and confusion and doubt the next. It all draws me to self-examination, confession and faith.
It’s easy for me to get down about the losses and not being able to do what I use to do. Sometimes the challenge is in finding the challenge that isn’t what use to be. No matter what the limits of my body are, I want to find that thing that stretches me once again.
by God’s grace may it be
I have always reflected on the passages that encourage us to delight in Him. Like delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. But one day as I reflected on God’s feelings for us I asked myself “Does the bible say He delights in us?” The answer is an astonishing yes. Many times in fact. Sometimes just because He does so seemingly unconditionally. Other times because of our response to Him. When is God delighted in us? Here is what I found.
Psalm 18:19 He bought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.
Psalm 149:4 For the Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation.
Psalm 147:10-11 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse; nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.
Psalm 51:16-17 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Isaiah 65:19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
Lev. 26:31 I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings.
Micah 7:18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.
1 Sam. 15:22 But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is with you, He is might to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.
Isaiah 62:4 No longer will they call you deserted, or name your land desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Bevlan; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.
2 Samuel 22:20 He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.
Proverbs 11:20 The Lord detests men of perverse heart but He delights in those whose ways are blameless.
Proverbs 3:12 because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son He delights in.
Proverbs 12:22 The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful.
Isaiah 42:1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
Psalm 22:8 He trust in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him, let Him deliver him since He delights in him.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches but let him who boasts boast about this: that He understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” declares the Lord.
The essence of me: What is essentially me?
With the latest MRI test and the anxiety accompanied, as well as interacting with a friend struggling with the physical, mental and emotional sufferings of his 89 year old mom, I have pondered this question: What is the essence of me? Much of “me” has been compromised physically (lung, heart, esophagus, eyes, muscles, bones, etc.) when the brain came into question I thought, “No, not my mind. It is the final frontier.” But is it? Is that the essence of me — my mind? What is “me”? The Soul? The Spirit? What is that? If I develop serious cognitive impairment along the way, do I lose “me”? Is “me” all in my head? What is the relationship to these parts of me — the body, mind, emotion, and what I will call here the intuit (more about that later)? Is pain and suffering the disqualifiers of “me”? Is purposelessness and lack of connection disqualifiers of “me”? Can all this be resolved using mental and emotional processes — meaning is healing and the growth of me only through cognitive-affective activities? And so does God meet us only through the mind or the emotions? Is there more than that of “me” that God meets me at and I live out of?
How do I cultivate the essence of “me”? Is it through the cognitive by various thinking exercises? Is it through the affective by various feeling exercises? Or how about the sensual by various exercises of the senses? And what of the intuit? Can it be developed? Are there exercises that cultivate this part of me? What really keeps “me” intact and developing? What is the relationship between the four? Are they linked so that if one part suffers or is ignored, the rest of the parts suffer as well? Do they influence — help/hurt each other? How? If the cognitive, affective and sensual are impaired, does the intuitive continue? Is it measurable? Sustainable?
We live in a Western world mindset that is mostly focused on the cognitve-sensual-affective (in that order and priority). Western Evangelical church is so cognitive in its approach to spirituality, the absence of the intuit is obvious. Our reliance on the mind is almost idolatrous as we depend on it as our source for the numerous decisions of faith and life. It is an unknown mystery to most of us. Perhaps all four parts are connected and combine to be the essence of “me”. Maybe the intuit is more connected then the others, though most ignored or unknown to the Western conscience. Perhaps it is untapped. Other cultures and religions emphasize what I am calling as our intuitive part. Early church fathers and other tracts of historical Christianity reflect in their mystical practices an intuitive nature of their spirituality.
What is the intuit part of “me”? The intuit you may understand it as the “gut”. “I feel it in my gut.” That is not necessarily a thought or feeling but something else in ship. It is the part of us that integrates all other parts. It thrives when we are most resolved within ourselves and there is congruency in our values, hopes and behaviors. It weakens when we are the least integrated and there is hypocrisy in our selves. It is what can be most wounded or most empowered. It thrives in the paradox of letting go and not of holding on. Christian Mystics would say it is the part of us that experiences the deepest places of prayer transcending past thoughts, senses and feelings. It is often in a altered state beyond the everyday functioning of the “me”. Some would say it is the part of us that truly connects with the Eternal, with the Presence, with the One, with God.
So what do I do with connecting with this part of “me”? (am I getting too new age for you, I am not by any means N.A. but definitely a believer in beyond thoughts, senses and feelings) Meditative practices both Eastern and Western mystics emphasize a non-thinking, non-feeling state that empties out the container of “me”. It is to “transcend” beyond thoughts, sensations and feelings. Isolation and sensual deprivation is often involved in the meditative process. Monks would spend days, weeks, months and even years in isolation so to arrive in that deepest place within themselves that it’s in touch with the Presence of the Unknowable. Artificial means such as drugs and isolation tanks were used to get into this altered state (notice I did not say state of mind).
The writings of people describing their experiences of the intuit often are abstract, metaphorical and all over the place incongruent with the evangelical linear-rational worldview. One thing it seems the intuit part of us does is clean up our system. Our being collects much cognitive, emotive and sensual input. The intuit is liken to the rebooting of a computer. It defragments all that excess material and integrates others. So the “me” runs faster and clearer. Too often the “me” is a slowed down processer because of the neglect or ignorance of the intuit part.
Back to the essence of me. Though I lose my body, my emotions and my mind, perhaps I don’t lose “me”. Perhaps the intuit still holds together “me”. If I don’t starve it, but feed it in my lifetime and the other parts of me work with it, this “me” continues when the others are diminished. Perhaps when I lose my life, I find it.
There is a time to think.
There is a time to feel.
There is a time to use our senses.
There is a time when we move beyond all these and attend to the gut, the deepest bowels as the Old Testament refers to what I am calling the intuit.
The meditation that ends not with thought or feeling but simply in being. It enters the sanctum of inner silence and waits in stillness. Out of such place comes clearer thoughts, cleaner feelings and heighten senses. Meditation may start with the mind or the body or even the heart but moves to the other part of “me”, what the mystics would claim as the truest parts of “me”. Not everything about prayer has to do with talking or even listening. Sometimes it is simply waiting with awareness and receptivity.
Some lose faculties and end up bitter. Some lose faculties and end up better. Have you met these people? What makes them end up one way or the other. Perhaps it is in the “me” that is intuit (okay if you want to call it spirit or soul go right ahead). Perhaps some whose minds, bodies and even emotions have been compromised deeply can live with special grace. Perhaps there is a “me” in them that is connected to the Eternal One and we see it in them in part mysteriously, unexplainably. Perhaps others have not been so integrated. The soil of the soul never cultivated, too much dependent on the mind, body or the emotions and in their compromised lives live in bitterness.
I am rambling. But it is the reflection of one reduced. I have so much of the use of my body, mind and heart that I should never take for granted. I should be and am grateful. I also must feed the intuit, the soul. And if the former three are reduced even more, may I know the Unknowable and reflect His goodness still.
This is the great stumbling block in our spiritual journey. Who you think you are is how you live out your life. We spin our wheels getting nowhere no matter what goals we set, promises we make or confessions we speak. We think that if we can go through the motions we’d change. Fake it until you make it one guy in group said.
I have talked with people in retreats, counseling sessions, process groups and wish so much that they can know this simple truth. You are not who you think you are. Whether it is inflated or deflated, your thoughts about yourself sets you up. Most of us don’t get who we really are. If we did, everything would turn upside down.
Most of the journey with God is Him purging our thoughts of ourselves and speaking into us our true self. That comes much when He purges our view of Him and brings deeper clarity about Himself to us. Gideon realized he was valiant warrior once he realized God was his God, who saw Gideon with favor and belief.
It is a circular thing. See God more clearly- see yourself more clearly. See yourself more clearly- see God more clearly.
It also goes in the negative. See yourself in distortion- see God in distortion. See God in distortion- see yourself in distortion.
There is a name for each follower of Christ written on a white stone in heaven. On that stone is his or her name. It is a true name of he or she is in the eyes of God. Whatever is in the eyes of God is what really is.
The spiritual journey is this self discovery.
Here is the short list that finished the forty days of love.
Handing out food to the homeless.
Visiting my mother recovering from an procedure
Two visits to the hospital.
sharing a bit about God to a neighbor
listening to the heart of God for the broken in worship
It was a good stretch. I’m tired. Will be thinking about how to continue living it out.